When you’re a kid, organizing a spontaneous neighborhood game is easy: Grab your bike, ring a bunch of doorbells and – Presto! – you are ready to go.

Adults have more complicated schedules. There’s always that inconvenient thing called “work” getting in the way of sports. When he was still a college student, entrepreneur Dan Wilson quickly learned about another obstacle when he tried to play Ultimate Frisbee with his friends. The competition for recreational fields is brutal.

At night, the choices are either pay a high rental fee for an illuminated field or indoor arena… or stumble around in the dark. Now, Massachusetts-based startup AfterDark Technologies is presenting another option: illuminated, interactive uniforms that let you see your opponents, teammates and, of course, the ball.

We recently caught up with Dan Wilson at his manufacturing facility to find out how Onshape helped him conquer the dark.

DAN WILSON – FOUNDER, AFTERDARK TECHNOLOGIES

Q: Why did you start using Onshape?

A: As with any early-stage startup, we have to run lean, we have limited capital and we have to be very careful on what we spend our money on. We were using SolidWorks, but the license for it was prohibitively expensive. I mean, for the cost of one year of the license, I could buy more 3D printers or a ton of extra supplies. Using Onshape just makes business sense – it’s full-featured and does everything I need it to do.

Q: How did you first hear about Onshape?

A: From my electrical engineer. I checked out your website, signed up, and literally started designing products that same day. The fact that I can use it anywhere, anytime and on any type of computer is very valuable because we run some slow machines here, some really cheap machines.

Q: What are the biggest benefits for AfterDark Technologies?

A: To be able to use a fully functional CAD program on a $200 PC is amazing. Because it’s in the cloud, I also don’t have to worry about backing up because everything is backed up automatically. This was a problem for us in the past. We recently lost a lot of our CAD files due to a corrupted hard drive.

Q: What files did you lose?

A: We basically had to start over from scratch. In the early stages of the company, when we were using Solidworks on VMware using a Mac, we weren’t diligent about backing up our files. The hard drive failure ended up erasing the designs for every product we had ever designed in the first 18 months of the company. Needless to say, it was a huge setback. So having Onshape’s automated feature of backing up everything to the cloud is just a nice warm safety blanket.

Q: How big of a deal is it for you to use CAD in a web browser?

A: Because it is browser based, it doesn’t matter what kind of computer I’m using – either PC or Mac. It’s just there, everything I need is right there at my fingertips. It’s very simple, has an easy interface, and I like the fact that Onshape is adding new features every few weeks.

RECLAIMING THE NIGHT: Recreational athletes no longer need to have access to expensive facilities to play sports in the dark.

Q: How does Onshape help you with rapid prototyping?

A: With Onshape and our 3D printers, we’re able to do quick design iterations, multiple iterations in a day. I can tweak this, change this, make an adjustment in Onshape, shoot it over to the printer, and an hour later, I’ve got the new version of my product ready to go and ready to test.

Q: What was it like teaching yourself Onshape?

A: When I shifted over to Onshape, it was a seamless transition from SolidWorks.  I mean, there were a few minor differences in the way things work or how you do something, but in the end, it has everything that I need.

Q: How important is the ability to simultaneously collaborate in Onshape – the fact that you can be working on the same CAD model at the same time as other members of your design team?

A: Flag football is a team sport and what I've learned working in this company, designing a product is a team sport, too. The ability to collaborate with your team effectively is essential to success.

For the new version of our products, we were ordering circuit boards from a contract manufacturer, but we wanted to test one first before placing a multi-thousand dollar order. I’m in Massachusetts and my electrical engineer is in Florida. He built the prototype circuit board down there, but I designed the programming jig up here so we could program the microprocessor on it. I sent it to him and he made some little adjustments so he could print it down there.

I think location independence at work is a trend that is only going to increase. I love to travel and I want to get out and see the world. To be able to do the things that I need to get done from any location sounds great to me.

Q: What do you consider to be the most rewarding part of your job?

A: When I’m thinking about how to achieve my vision, I’ll often make notes and quick drawings – back of the envelope type of stuff. I like that process of taking that really rough drawing and turning it into something that you can see right in front of you on the screen. And then taking it from the screen right to the printer. Within a few hours, being able to turn what was in your head into something physically in your hands is amazing.

(Watch the video at the top of this post to see an AfterDark football game in action. Have a customer story idea for Onshape? Please share it with us at success(at)onshape.com.)

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